There’s nothing like a crackling fire on a cold, winter evening. But building and stoking that fire can be frustrating if you’re not doing it right. There are a few things you can keep in mind for a perfect fire, every time.
First, check the flue and make sure it's open. Always use dry, or seasoned, wood. Start with two logs layed over a fire grate. The grate will allow air circulation from below to help feed the fire.
Next, tightly crumple several balls of newspaper, about the size of a grapefruit, between the logs. You can also add kindling wood to this. Never use cardboard boxes, wrapping paper or magazines as kindling. They can both damage your fireplace, and release toxic chemicals. Also avoid using flammable liquids to get the fire going.
It's smart to keep an inch or two of ash bed from previous fires under the grate. This not only adds insulation, it helps create a hotter burning fire.
To stoke the fire, add an extra log every 10 to 20 minutes, but don't over feed - you should be able to see the top of the flame at all times. Remember to slow down fueling as the night goes on, as you never want to go to bed with a raging fire in the fireplace. To be extra safe, use a mesh metal screen or glass fireplace doors on your fireplace. This type of guard in front of an open flame is especially important when no one is in the room.
While manufactured logs are easy to use, they can also cause a waxy build-up on your chimney liner which is tough to clean -- so use them very sparingly. Also never burn treated wood, painted or stained wood or green (wet) wood. Choose hardwoods like oak. Softwoods like pine give off more creosote, a flammable by-product of combustion that can build up in the chimney. And avoid using logs that claim to clean creosote buildup. These can be very corrosive and can potentially damage metal chimney liners.
Remember that fireplaces and chimneys are involved in 42% of all home heating fires. It's always a great idea to have your fireplace and chimney inspected at least once a year, and swept at least once every season. To find a certified company, go to the Chimney Safety Institute.
Follow these steps and you'll be an expert fire builder in no time!